NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 28 – Abdul Haji has been described as a hero after he was captured on camera saving hundreds of people trapped at the Westgate mall siege, despite being a civilian. The son of former Defence Minister Yusuf Haji, Abdul who is a licensed firearm holder rushed to the mall on hearing of the attack to save his brother. As it turns out, he ended up saving many more people.
Abdul narrated his rescue mission to eNews Channel Africa. “I don’t think of myself as a hero, before the whole thing I did not consider myself as a very brave man. But when I think about it, I keep telling myself, I think any other Kenyan would have probably done the same, a person who was in my situation and had the same thought process as me, somebody who was concerned of a family member and probably had a weapon would have done the same thing,” the 38 year-old says. It was on the morning of September 21 when Haji was having breakfast at Yaya Centre. He got a distressing message from his brother saying “trapped in Westgate I think they are terrorists.”
It was not just for the love of his brother that Abdul immediately left for Westgate. Terrorists were at the time in control of the mall. They rained bullets on human beings that they came across. Amidst all the confusion of people scampering for safety, others trying to save their loved ones, Abdul was not cowed by the heavy exchange of fire.
Abdul was at the front-line saving strangers. He helped any person in need. “I found a desperate situation…I heard people screaming from inside the mall. Most of the guys who were armed got their guns out, at this point I also felt I should do the same. So I got my gun as well. We started giving cover to the Red Cross people to get the survivors out. We were now looking out for each other and protecting each other,” a humble Abdul recounts.
It’s been several days since the attack, but Abdul freshly recalls moving scenes of the very young, the old looking for the smallest chance to escape the hostile and merciless terrorists. “There was a bunch of kids, old ladies, young girls, some were dead, and some were injured and bleeding badly.”
Together with other rescuers, Abdul was lucky to move into the mall and save lives. “We saw a lady hiding behind a table, and we thought, oh my God, she was in the middle of the crossfire and I knew we had to get them out,” he explains. “When we reached a good distance to her we told her ‘you need to run, you need to run to us’ and she just whispered to us and told us ‘I have three kids’, we asked her ‘are you able to get your eldest of your kids to run to us’, and she just nodded and said ‘wait’, and suddenly a girl appeared and we start urging her to start running to us. At that point in time, I thought she was a very brave little girl. Running to a bunch of people she does not know, people holding guns.”
He says his motivation was to save as many people as possible. “This ducking, taking cover and shooting became very instinctive, our instincts took over and the thought about staying alive was driving us – and the adrenalin, we kept on thinking there are more people to be rescued and it kept us going,” he recalls. According to government reports, over 1,000 people were safely evacuated from the Westgate mall. Unfortunately, 67 others perished in the terrorist attack.